Monkeys Amid the Foliage……

Monkey Jungle, near Homestead, FL, is approaching their 80th year as both a habitat for primates and a tourist attraction.

Many of us have a habit of not always checking out the sights in our own backyard so to speak, and my plan for all those “day trips” in tourist attraction-heavy Florida became bogged down in everyday activites. Certainly I scoot out to dive when I can and we have made it around to a number of places. Some we save for when we have visitors, but others are still on the “get around to it” list. Monkey Jungle is one of those places and when I dashed out the other day to do a interview, I returned home and told my husband that we really needed to go back.

It is a fascinating story that began in the 1920s when an artist in New York, Jospeh DuMond, decided to follow his dream of studying primates. He packed his family into a Model-T and in the latter part of the 1920s, the Redlands of South Florida was far removed from New York by more than geography. It really did resemble a jungle and Joe’s idea was that the climate was conducive to monkeys establishing a territory for themselves. He started with 6 Java monkeys and as he predicted, they quickly made themselves at home in the lush foliage. He wanted to expand his work, but money was hard to come by in the middle of the Depression. He started giving tours and while that brought in money, the monkeys didn’t like the intrusion. DuMond hit on the idea of screened-in walkways for the visitors, giving rise to the tagline of, “Monkey Jungle – Where Humans are Caged and Monkeys Run Wild”. The pitch worked and he was able to expand to 30 acres; his son later collaborating to create an Amazon Rainforest. There are 400 primates today of more than 30 species, to include a project helping restore the population of Golden Lion Tamarins.

The grandaughter, Sharon, is the third generation and although her brother is also involved, she is the very hands-on person. She was delightful to interview and it is an intriguing place. Most leading primatologists have studied at or visited this uncaged habitat. As Sharon said, they strive to educate through entertainment and they have a variety of programs to interest all ages. Their website is


Chicken Salad in a Pineapple……

If you’re thinking of lighter cool meals for summertime luncheons and don’t mind getting a little messy, one of my favorites is to make chicken salad and serve it in a pineapple “boat”. Depending on how you like your chicken salad, you can either use some of the pineapple in the chicken salad, or serve the chunks of pineapple separately. I do have one of the pineapple corers that makes the “rings” as you press into the pineapple, but you can also cut it out by hand if you want larger chunks. Either way you do it, you splt the pineapple vertically and you’re left with an empty pineapple that makes a perfect “boat”. Depending on the size of the pineapple, you can cut each half in half cross-ways and you have a “curved wedge” instead of a “boat”, but it still makes a pretty presentation.

I don’t like heavy mayo on chicken salad although I use a light version rather than no-fat. I’ve tried several no-fat brands and think there is simply too much flavor trade-off. I also use 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice (or 1/2 lemon) since I cut back on the mayo.

If I have time, I do boil boneless, skinless chicken breasts for 20 minutes, let them cool, and then cut them into small pieces. For an even better flavor, I ask my husband to throw a couple of extra breats on the grill when we do chicken and use those later. Packages of pre-cooked chicken strips are also available of course and yes, I use canned at times as well. However, if I’m going to the trouble and mess to do pineapple boats, I usually skip the canned type. It’s a simple recipe:

2 cups of chicken cut into strips or small chunks; 1/2 cup low fat mayo; 2 TBS lemon juice; 1 stalk minced celery; 1 TBS minced sweet onion (red or other variety); 1 TBS creole seasoning (or something like Old Bay); 1/2 tsp salt. Optional: 1/2 cup diced pineapple; 1/4 cup slivered almonds. Mix all ingredients, and add one TBS of mayo extra at a time if it is too dry until you get the consistency that you like.

This is another of those recipes that can be made a day ahead, although when I do that,  I don’t add the pineapple because I’ve found that liquid from the pineapple breaks down. If I have room in the fridge, I prepare the pineapple “boats”, cover them with plastic wrap, put the chicken salad in another container and the pineapple chunks in another container, then assemble everything an hour or so before I’m ready to serve. Since the “boats” take up a fair amount of space, the other option is to do the chicken salad ahead of time and prepare the pineapples the day of serving. Oh, you can also make this same recipe using cooked shrimp instead of chicken.

There are several steps involved here, but it’s actually fairly easy. You serve the chicken salad boats/wedges with fresh rolls or chunks of bread – or none if you’re watching carbs and a plate of other fresh fruit in addition to the pineapple. A quick and pretty plate is to put the pineapple pieces in the center and surround them with slices of kiwi and/or strawberries. Have a sorbet for dessert if you want to and it makes for a lovely lunch.